Off-road tips that might actually be useful! Gear you might want to buy!
Try this – a waterproof camera
By Deb Miller Marschke
Our preferred 4WD adventure vehicle is a 1978 Jeep CJ. It has no top, just a vinyl cloth shade cover over our heads, and open sides. It comes with its challenges, but we love it anyway. As the years roll along, we have ruined many cameras on our trips. The main problem being the amount of dust we encounter. Cameras don’t like dust! Grit and dust get trapped into the focusing lens, and that tell tale grinding sound signals yet another camera that will need to be repaired or replaced. It happened so many times that I started reading blogs about what other people were doing about it.
Surprise! What we needed was a waterproof camera. Waterproof cameras are designed to be sealed against the elements. If the camera is sealed well enough to be taken underwater 30 feet, it would follow that the camera would not suffer the intrusion of dust. There were many pocket size cameras to choose from, but most four wheelers recommended the Nikon Coolpix.
We bought two Nikon Coolpix cameras and our lives immediately improved. It is waterproof up to 30 meters, shockproof, and has a decent zoom. We have not needed to replace them, and the cameras have been through a lot. Dust, rain, falling out of pockets onto the hard ground, so far indestructible. We took them on our trip to the Galapagos Islands and took excellent underwater photos every day we snorkeled.
Something happened this summer which lead me to be inspired to share this tip with all of you. We had been on a week long fourwheeling trip in the Sierras, camped near Florence Lake. One day, everyone went fishing. I had my Nikon in my pants pocket just in case I caught a monster trout. While I was attempting to cross the river by hopping on rocks, I slipped off a rock and fell in. I wasn’t hurt but I ripped a hole in my shoes. I was concentrating on getting safely to the opposite bank with my fishing pole. After I caught my breath, I patted my pant pocket – the camera was gone! Oh, No! Five days of vacation photos, some irreplaceable, were on that camera! I freaked out. I felt nauseous. I hurriedly went back to the river, frantically reaching under rocks, retracing my path. Now I am standing in the churning water, feeling around under everything. No camera. I was absolutely sick about it. Steve and my other friends came to see what was wrong.
Choking back tears, I admitted that the “trip photographer” had lost the camera in the San Joaquin River rapids. Everyone started searching, but it was gone. Dejected, I started making my way downstream. I could feel the meltdown building. My trip was now ruined (I don’t deal with losing things very well…) . One of my friends was standing on the river bank downstream. It was uphill from the river. Apparently he was scanning the river with binoculars. He let out a “Whoop!” He found the camera, below the rapids, sitting at the bottom of a pool. The camera is a burnt orange color, had it been black he would not have seen it. Steve went into the pool and retrieved it. It was fully intact and functional despite some new scrapes. I heard angels!
Steve and I wholeheartedly recommend this type of camera. They can be found on Amazon for $ 339.00 - $389.00. Just search for Nikon Coolpix Waterproof. The camera does not float, so when you are swimming you can buy an attachable float in case you drop it (that’s what we did in Galapagos). We no longer worry about the elements at all, the camera can take it. Rain? Ha! No problem. The quality of the photos is great, you can adjust the pixels. We just leave it on high resolution; each photo we take is 5 MB large, but can be easily reduced with computer software once the photos are offloaded. Buy the bright yellow one, it would be easily seen at the bottom of the San Joaquin River! ~ Deb
Help is on the way... or is it?
by Jerry Dupree
Have you ever had a false sense of security and thought you could solve every situation? My father used to call me a worry wart because I was always prepared with the right tool or device. I hated that term. My mother always said, “I’m just trying to be practical.” And she took the fun out of any adventure. After my father bought a boat and we had several near misses with disaster I resigned from his navy.
Because I am always out in the desert or up in the mountains off road exploring and having my kind of fun and usually out where there is no cell phone reception, I have a few precautions. I bring a shotgun and several 12 gauge marine distress flares. I bought a PLB, (Personal Locator Beacon) that bush pilots carry in case they are in trouble. I have a satellite phone and have had the impression that no matter what, I would be in capable hands in no time. One time we were out and about and a real emergency developed and it was my chance to test these pieces of safety equipment.
The incident happened in Death Valley on our way back from the “Racetrack” where under the right circumstances the rocks mysteriously move great distances and then are able to turn at a right angle and travel in another direction. We were near the Heebee Jeebie (Ubehebe) Crater and Scotty’s Castle, or thought we were. There was a four wheel drive vehicle that passed us and I remember thinking there was a warning about this type of vehicle might be top heavy and to be careful going around curves. Well this guy wasn’t. We came around a bend and there was a large amount of dust and a pair of headlights in a vertical position. Headlights are supposed to be arranged horizontal, but one was above the other amid the dust cloud. It was the same 4 Runner that passed us. I slowed and stopped and it was the same car and it had left the pavement and rolled. I quickly got out and looked inside to see if
anyone was injured. The three occupants were shook up but no one was broken or bleeding. Their car was in bad shape and the engine was still running. One by one the driver climbed out and turned off the engine. The passengers squeezed out one at a time. It was obvious that they would need emergency service for the car as it was on its side with its windows broken from rolling on the rocks during its tumble off of the pavement.
I felt like I needed a Super Hero cape and costume as I was about to become the guy who saved the people. Two of them spoke no English and the driver barely did. They were tourists from Japan. The first item of business was to put the vehicle back on its wheels and survey the damage. There were no body parts without a dent from rolling on the rocks and no glass where there used to be windows. It was very lucky that no one was seriously hurt. I fastened a nylon choker strap on to the seat belt and connected the hook from my winch and then drove backwards and rolled the vehicle back on its wheels. One of the tires was flat. The next thing to do would be contact a tow truck. I got out my PLB which when activated, was supposed to signal a satellite and give a distress call and summon help. There is no way to convey whether we needed a can of gas, a gallon of radiator coolant, or an ambulance, or other kind of help. I followed the directions and raised the antenna and activated the red blinking light and hoped someone would be nearby enough to get the signal. While we waited I got out the Globalstar satellite phone which had never been tested. Since we were in the middle of Death Valley the thing couldn’t help but find a satellite, could it? ...or could it? The device has a set of bars similar to a cell phone which gives the signal strength of a satellite. As I understand it there are several satellites surrounding our planet and they are orbiting the earth and when one is contact, it will relay the signal to another one which I understand is similar to driving a car while talking on a cell phone while the signal goes from one tower to the next. There went my hero status.
I had learned about satellite phones while we were in Australia and there is an off road magazine called “Explore OZ” which we found while we were Down Under. I learned a lot of things from Ozzies about equipment and off road gear. That was how I learned about the Globalstar satellite phone.
The bars on the phone indicated that we have “caught a bird” which I think is the term for contacting a satellite to relay to someone who could help. Way better than a CB radio which we thought were wonderful before there were other devices. I contacted the operator to describe the problem and got it partly out there and then we lost the signal. I had a map from the park headquarters which gives no details to tell where we were. I had an “ah ha” moment because I also had a GPS and could give coordinates. The problem is that while I kept calling back and trying to describe where in Death Valley we were, I kept losing the signal. The satellite phone was routed to a dispatcher at the CHP station in Bishop. By some miracle I looked and saw a vehicle with a blinking red light heading toward us. I assumed it was someone like a park ranger or someone who would help these poor people who had a very close call with disaster and destroyed their car.
At that time I was trying to figure out how to either remove the flat tire and replace it with the spare, or try to inflate it. The tire was not tight against the wheel, therefore it would turn without loosening the bolts. I was about to ask the driver to step on the brake to hold the wheel from turning so we could loosen the wheel and possibly have this person able to drive home.
The ranger arrived and was rather abrupt and wanted to know who owned the car and who the heck I was. I told him I was helping the poor chap and summoned the ranger or appointed person in such matters. He said it was reported that it was a roll over non injury accident, so why was the vehicle upright? I told him that I put it back on its wheels but hesitated to tell him by the looks of the vehicle it was obvious that it had rolled over
several rocks and lost all of its windows. He could also have ascertained by looking at my truck and its winch that my truck could have rolled it back upright. The ranger looked at me as though I was a nosey gawker rubber neck ghoul and told me I “could go now.” I think that was cop talk for “beat it you stupid civilian.” Well, I did my part or at least tried to be a hero. We got back in the truck and left, believing the poor tourists from Japan would somehow be in good hands and recover from their bruises.
Back to safety devices. When we got home we naturally listened to our messages from when we were gone on our trip. One call to our land line was from the PLB company asking what our emergency was. It’s funny that we were in Death Valley when the call was made and they called our house for details???? There was another message on my cell phone saying they called and didn’t get an answer. I think that was why I resorted to using the PLB. I paid a lot of money for these devices and relied on them for what?
I found out that Globalstar was bankrupt and didn’t have enough satellites in their “constellation” to cover such places as Death Valley where there were no obstructions to interfere with the signal. Months later I read an email spam advertisement for satellite phones and learned that another system was called Iridium and they had been saved out of bankruptcy by the good old U.S. government. It seems they needed cell phones to fight another unnecessary war and had launched a lot of new satellites.
I decided to give that one a call and sign up. Over the course of a few years
I discovered that the operators of the companies that served the system were unscrupulous and deceptive. I am now on my third such company and rate them a C- because everything started out fine and I was able to subscribe once a year and carry over my unused minutes at 60 cents per minute. The present system does not allow the carry over so it’s a “use it or lose it” proposition. They have also increased their rates. I continue to pay for it because I hope it works if I need it when I am out of cell phone reception.
I bought a Garmin “SPOT” device with the belief that my wife could look for me on her cell phone or computer. I thought it would be like the GPS trackers you see in the movies and on TV where you can “see” the target person on the move in real time. They are not real and don’t work that way. They will show a point in time where the target was and not is. It also requires steps to show it on the receiving end. They are expensive to subscribe to which costs as much as the device.
My devices are not present generation and lack all of the goodies. I have owned several GPS units and like a lot of things, they have become complicated by the application of other “features” such as the ability of walkie talkies and cameras. In my experiences I have never seen a walkie talkie with enough distance to make them worth carrying.
I subscribe to or am on several mailing lists for outdoor gear and clothing. One of the sites is “Adventure Alan” and he reviews lots of outdoor stuff and gives good reviews and ratings. I will attempt to include some of his findings. ~ Jerry
CB Radio • Things You Need to Know
by Mike Vollmert
Having a functioning CB radio is mandatory on virtually all DE trips. There are two parts to that statement - having a radio, and having it function! In our travels, we have a few requirements for a CB that are somewhat specific. First, we need to have a unit mounted in a way that it will withstand the bumping and bouncing of offroad travel. Second, we need the unit mounted in such a way that we can reach the microphone and controls - while bumping and bouncing along our backroads and trails. This write-up is about selecting and installing a CB that will, over time, function as reliably as possible and, as much as possible, avoid failure on the trail. Selecting the right CB radio entails a few basic steps - you'll need to choose a radio, an antenna, and figure out the best way to install it.
First and foremost, look at your vehicle - what space do you have to bolt in a radio in a location that is accessible (can you grab the microphone easily? Will it be out of the way with respect to controls on the dash, passengers, etc?) and secure. A unit that bounces around stuffed in between the seat and the center console will, at the most inopportune moment, fail! The issue of space will dictate the size of the radio you can get.
In my FJ Cruiser, I chose a Cobra radio that has almost all of the circuitry in the microphone (there’s a matchbook-sized box that mounts under the dash). I just didn’t have room around the dash where I could fit a larger unit and not have it in the way of something else. It’s a little more expensive, but it saves space. In many vehicles, a unit can easily be mounted under the dash - easy, convenient, secure. I’ve seen them mounted on the headliner, on the top of the dash, on the center console ..... Lots of personal choice involved in this, but it’s a major thing to think about - not good to buy a unit, then go to your vehicle and find you’ve got no convenient place to put it because it’s too big, or the knobs and controls are in the wrong place, or where you thought you’d mount it isn’t going to work because you can’t get power to it or there’s no good way to route the antenna cable. Plan ahead and avoid a headache!
Selecting a radio is basically selecting one with the features you want. At the end of the day, you basically need a radio for communication, without any bells or whistles. They will all pretty much transmit the same distance. By law, a CB can only transmit 4 watts of power, which places it’s range in a fairly small box - pretty much below 10 miles unless you break the law or use a high powered, Single Side Band (SSB) unit. My recommendation - don’t! You don’t need one that scans, or saves multiple channels, or has weather alerts. Unless you really want that functionality, save your money and get one that just lets you talk on a selected channel and is stout enough to withstand the rigors of driving off road.. (My radio has the weather channel feature, and I’ve never, in 10 years, used it).
Here’s a link about various radios (do your own research as well - Google is your friend, but caveat emptor when it comes to reviews!):
https://www.rightchannelradios.com/blogs/selection-guides/18149787-choosing-the-best-cb-radio (Note: I’m not endorsing these guys, and I don’t necessarily suggest purchasing from them, but their website is a good learning resource. And they basically “get” what we do with our radios)
The second consideration is the antenna. First, will you permanently mount it or use a removable unit (magnetic mount, gutter clip, etc.)? It’s way better to have a permanent mount, but for lots of reasons that’s not always possible. On my FJ, I was able to permanently mount an antenna on the rear door hinge using something called a Bandi Mount - which works really well. So far as I know, this mount is specifically made for FJ Cruisers and doesn’t exist for other vehicles. Bob Jaussaud and I rigged a similar set up on Mignon Slenz’s ForeRunner and I did the same on Glen Shaw’s Tacoma by fabricating a similar sort of mount. I try to avoid drilling holes in vehicles and was able to do my entire installation without doing so, but that isn’t always possible. On Mignon’s and Glen’s vehicles, we had to drill holes. I had to compromise on my “drill no holes in the vehicle” policy when I installed my ham radio and I drilled a hole in my roof - but there are some good solutions for that as well! Regardless, get a good antenna, and make sure you can get a reliable, stable, consistent connection to the vehicle - there’s a principle in radio antennas related to something called a ground plane about which Ham Radio guys wax on poetically forever. If you listen to those guys, you’ll absolutely maximize the performance of your radio, but you’ll have copper straps connecting every metal part on your vehicle - axles, body, frame... For an overlanding rig, and especially for CB radio where you’re basically interested in communicating with the other vehicles in your group over relatively short distances (up to 5 miles or so), you’re safe making compromises on the whole issue, but there absolutely needs to be a good, stable mount to the metal of your vehicle.
Once the antenna is connected to the radio, you’ll want to get someone to tune it. I took my FJ to a guy here locally who sold ham radio and CB radio stuff, and he did it for me for about $20. If you don’t tune the antenna to your setup, you won’t get anywhere near optimal operation, which basically limits your range, sometimes dramatically. On trips, you’ve likely heard radios that don’t come in well, be it transmitting, receiving, or both. Almost guaranteed the issue with those setups is not tuning the antenna and mounting it reliably to the vehicle. Tuning the antenna requires a device called an SWR meter and the knowledge for using it - you can do it (with a little research and either purchasing or borrowing the meter, or, like I did, take the easy route and find someone who does this stuff a lot).
Wherever you mount the antenna, you need a route for the antenna cable that will get the cable from the antenna (on the outside of the vehicle) to the radio (on the inside of the vehicle) without crimping or kinking the wire. Many people run the cable through a door jam, which is basically hoping that opening and closing the door will press the cable into the weatherstripping, but not crimp the cable. I’ve seen it work, and I’ve seen it not work (in fact, we dealt with that very issue with one person on one of Nelson Millers recent trip). If you do choose to route your antenna wire through the door seam, ALWAYS close that door very gently!
Firestik is my recommended antenna, but that’s a basically permanently mounted solution, and it’s a fiberglass antenna - rugged, but not the most distance-oriented type of antenna. The antenna height is a compromise - the taller the better for performance (the ideal CB antenna is
about 8-¬Ω feet tall), but the shorter the better to avoid whacking branches and such while driving. I have the shorter (36”) Firestik mounted on my rear door hinge - it doesn’t stick all that far above my rig, which definitely compromises how far I can transmit, but it’s never been an issue. Generally, I can transmit about 3 to 5 miles. Also, on my rig, the antenna can be removed with a spring-loaded quick release, leaving only a small nub that the antenna mounts to. (This allows me to put the FJ in my garage. The danger with this setup is if you try to transmit without the antenna mounted, you could conceivably blow the unit, so once again, caveat emptor!).
Here’s a link to Right Channel Radio’s recommendations for antennas:
The third consideration is finances - but in reality, if you get a good radio (not the best, not the worst) and a good antenna, you’re going to be in a rough ballpark cost-wise for any of them. I would only caution against getting an off-brand, “el-cheapo” setup, and you’re only transmitting a couple miles, so you don’t need the “keep in touch with the other coast” single sideband ginormous models! By virtue of what we do, driving where we do, we tend to be on the upper end of the spectrum in terms of vibration and stress on the components, but our need for transmitting long distances is not really a factor. Aim for rugged and reliable, keeping in mind that a solid installation is the first priority.
Finally, power. There are two ways to set up your radio - always on, or only on with the car on. Again, personal preference (mine is only on when the car is on, because with my ADHD I would invariably forget to turn off the radio in the evening, only to have the thing run down my battery overnight! The negative aspect of this solution is whenever we stop, if I turn off the engine I lose radio reception). Either way, finding a good, reliable power source is paramount. For the always-on solution, run the power wire straight to your battery with an inline fuse. For the ignition-on solution, make sure you’re connecting to a circuit with ample amperage to drive your radio, and again, use a fuse on that power line!
For sure, there are low-grade, simpler solutions to adding a CB radio to your vehicle. But keep in mind, taking shortcuts and compromising will invariably result in your radio failing at the most inopportune moments. Losing the ability to communicate, aside from the safety factor, could rob you from the rich conversations that invariably happen while driving through the beautiful, historically rich landscapes we all love to explore. My motto - overbuilt is underrated! The time spent researching the right setup for your vehicle and mounting it securely will result in a dependable, long-lasting communication tool for your desert travels. ~ Mike
Handy Portable Phone Charger
by Jerry Dupree
Have you ever found a gadget and wondered how you ever get along without it? I didn’t know such a thing existed as a portable phone charger. Have you wanted to call someone and found your cell phone to be dead? How about a rental car with no electric outlet to charge your phone? I found a disabled car with two elderly couples, one man was handicapped and their only cell phone between them was dead. I let them use mine to contact AAA for service. I handed each of them a bottle of water while we waited and offered to charge their phone with my portable charger. I had originally bought one and then received another one as a gift. The second one has an LED flashlight, which can be very handy to find the right key or the lock. One of my chargers plugs directly into a wall outlet and the other one will charge with a USB plug. There are adapters to charge them from a vehicle.
I was in a position where I was stranded and made a call for assistance and needed to tell the emergency driver how to find me and it nearly used up all of the battery in my phone while I was using it. Having a portable phone charger would have been a good reserve.
The devices are capable of charging cameras as well. They come with plugs for other purposes. The chargers cost around $30 and would be worth the price whenever you or someone near you needs a quick charge. I don’t know how much time a complete charge would take, but 20-30 minutes of cell phone battery life would help to get assistance or to make an important call. One of my chargers was from Best Buy and the other was purchased at our local Ace hardware store. There are indicator lights to tell how much electricity is remaining.
I usually carry one of my chargers in my camera case which is almost always with me,
especially when I travel more than fifty miles from home. ~ Jerry
Cool Clear Water by Jerry Dupree
How much to bring, how to carry it, keep it cool, purify it and how to use it wisely
We live on “the water planet” and depend on it for everything to support life. We need to expand on the adage of “you don’t cross the desert without water” to include “don’t go anywhere without water.” The right amount includes everyone traveling with you and I like to have two gallons per person per day for drinking and keeping clean. You should also bring at least three gallons for your vehicle in case it over heats, breaks a hose, or the radiator develops a leak.
There are a lot of different containers for bringing water. I have had five gallon plastic water containers that are flexible, but they inevitably fail and leak the contents. I have carried three gallon water jugs like the ones used in home or office water coolers which bounce around on bumpy roads until they too will develop splits and leaks. I recently bought some military style“Jerry Cans.” During WWII the British army serving in the Middle East were using fuel containers that had a habit of bursting at the wrong time and losing their contents. They learned from captured German “Jerries” that their fuel containers were superior and the “Tommies” revised their design to equal the “Jerry” cans. I place foam padding under and around the water containers and tie them together to prevent damage from banging together while under way over bumps.
We store 80 gallons of water at home for emergency use in case of a natural disaster. Yes, they have floods in the desert and there are also destructive earthquakes. (The Big One). I researched the Internet and found a water purifier that will purify water at 2 quarts per minute and the filter cartridges will purify 800 gallons each. I have four filters and we can produce drinking water from our swimming pool in an emergency. It will filter .04 microns of bacteria, viruses, giardia, crypstopordia, parasitic cysts, odors, colors, sediment, and foul tastes. That is according to the instructions in the box. It would be nice to be prepared in an emergency. Think of the people living in th
Carolinas following hurricane Florence. Their water supply will be contaminated with every form of water borne illness producing pollutants and micro organisms.
All of the water we carry in our vehicle is pure and safe to drink whetherit is packed for drinking purposes or for the vehicle cooling system. We have a 24 qt. ice chest in the back seat. I freeze a one gallon jug (leaving room for expansion) and cool water bottles in the refrigerator before packing up for a trip. I carry more water than I think is necessary for several reasons. I have given bottles of water to people who didn’t bring any or those I have rescued from being stuck in sand, etc. The temperature of the water will stay cool longer if the ice chest is full. I prefer the 24 oz. bottles because they are a convenient size and fit the cup holders. I like to write names on a piece of masking tape and wrap it around the bottle to identify who’s bottle it is. The basic rule in driving around the desert is to drink water before you get thirsty and sip it often. Drinking a large quantity of ice water will cause cramps. After I park and before I put on my pack I drink between 8 to 12 oz. of water. I bring three bottles in my pack, which means I have a one bottle reserve. I am out hiking and doing wildlife photography one day a week. It takes considerable effort to find good locations for
photography. I need to be near game trails and away from having my cameras discovered by people.
There are other ways to purify water. They make purification tablets, but I am told the water does not taste good. I have heard that leaving a plastic water bottle in the sun will kill any water borne organisms. Boiling water may be the best solution if you don’t have a better way at the moment.
It is possible to make a solar still of a sheet of plastic. Find a dry river bed, preferably with green trees or shrubs to indicate the presence of water beneath the surface. Dig a hole a little smaller than the size of the sheet plastic. Place a bottle or can in the center and stretch the plastic over the hole and place a heavy rock in the corners and around the edges. Place a rock heavy enough to be over the can or bottle but not touching it. The moisture will collect by evaporation and run down and drip into the can or bottle. We succeeded in building and using solar stills in the Boy Scouts, but the water we collected would not be enough to sustain your bodily needs. It will at least give you something to do while waiting to be rescued.
Before launching the 1967 Six Day War, the Israeli army provided each soldier with 6 liters of water prior to engaging their adversaries. It was as important as ammunition and kept as near to the army, and was a definite factor in their success against their enemies (according to the History Channel).
The best way to conserve water is to plan for your needs and to not waste any. Good planning and conservation adds a lot to your enjoyment. ~ Jerry
Intense Talk About Tents
by Jerry Dupree
When shopping for tents there are many choices and decisions to be made. Whatever you do don’t believe the box the tent comes in. When it says it’s a four man tent, they really mean four leprechauns! I haven’t seen many of the little green men lately, so I haven’t asked one if even they were comfortable packed into one. I think four men really means two. Tents are usually made of canvas or nylon. I prefer nylon, because it’s lighter and it’s flexible regardless of temperature. Also, I don’t roll nylon tents. I just cram mine in a large duffel bag, poles, stakes, and all.
Never touch the roof of your tent during the rain. It is bad luck, and means you are about to become miserable. Seriously, your finger on the fabric will break the surface tension of the wet surface and start a wicking action and the water will drip through and soak you and your bedding one drop at a time.
Try to keep your tent away from tree sap, check the ground for rocks and twigs that will puncture the bottom when you step on them. Clear the area before you set up your tent. Avoid getting lantern fuel on the fabric. It can dissolve the water proof coating. LED battery lanterns are better and safer. The part of a tent that wears out first is the floor. You can add seasons to your tent by bringing a scrap of carpet to put on, at least, in the middle of the floor. Also, a piece of carpet in front of your tent will make a good door mat. It will help keep mud or snow out of your tent.
Of the popular styles of tents, there are internal frame, external frame, dome tents, and variations of each. I recommend that whatever style you choose, make sure you can stand up in it. It’s very uncomfortable to try dressing in a tent that isn’t tall enough for you to stand. It’s also difficult to look for your equipment or do anything else while stooped over. Also, it will knock your hat off every time you go in or out.
Of the nylon tents, there are light weight nylon and rip-stop nylon. Rip-stop looks like a checkered or a plaid texture. If you don’t know what rip-stop is, just ask the guy in the store. Like most camping and outdoor gear, tents go on sale in the spring before Memorial day. That is not just the best time to buy one, it’s the only time to buy one.
I prefer dome tents, because they are easy to set up, put away, and store. Of dome tents, I like the ones with two poles instead of three because two are simpler than three and they have a square floor rather than a hexagon. Since none of my gear is shaped like a hexagon, things fit better in a square. Including me. Cots fit better along a straight side. I use cots instead of sleeping on the floor for several reasons. Things that crawl have a harder time making it up the legs of a cot. It’s also easier to get up by putting my feet down than it is to stand up from a laying position. You can store all of your stuff under your bunk, thereby doubling the effective floor space. Oh, and they are comfortable. A good way to stand up in the morning is to place an ice chest outside of the opening so you can use it to help you stand up. I wish I had all the money I ever threw away on cots and just started out by getting aluminum frame nylon military ones to begin with. They don’t stretch and sag, they last a long time, and replacement covers are available.
Once while deer hunting in Utah, four men in our camp were sleeping on thick foam pads on the floor of their tent when it rained. They had a teeny leak in their tent and before the night was over, they were trying to sleep on wet sponges. As luck would have it, the temperature dropped below freezing and their discom fort dropped to abject misery. I, on the other hand, was snug as a bug in a rug.
If your tent gets a hole or a rip in it, the best way to fix it is to bring along some nylon fabric and some contact cement. You can buy it in a tube. Cut the fabric larger than the damaged area and make sure the corners have a
generous radius. Trace the patch on the tent, and cover both the patch and the area to be patched with contact cement. After the cement is dry, press the patch on the tent. The repair will be very strong and waterproof. It’s easier to patch and it will hold up to stresses better than sewing. If there is damage to a seam or stake loop, sew it up with dental floss. That’s what the Indians used, honest injun. Nylon fishing line works even better.
One part of a tent that takes a lot of abuse are the stake loops. Keep all stress and friction away from the loops when pounding the stakes in. Never pull out the stakes using the loops for handles. Use a tent stake extractor. You can buy one or make it by bending a hook in one end of a piece of steel rod, and either weld a six inch handle to it, or make it by bending six inches over at 90 degrees. A stake extractor is also handy to pick things like pots off the fire.
Stakes are specialized and come in a variety of styles. The plastic ones will turn into a gob when you try to pound them into rocky ground. The ones that look like big nails will also bend in this type of ground. Don’t get the wooden ones unless you are hunting vampires. The ones that come with the tent are at best, a bad joke. They are either too soft, too short, or they look like wire slightly larger than paper clips. The best bet is to get plenty of all different kinds of them, and to have extras. You will damage some, lose some, and loan some, never to see them again. For the large nail type, get some thick rubber from a tire, or a floor mat, and cut it into round or square shapes to act as washers. That way any guy ropes or stakes can’t pull out over the head.
Most modern tents have zippers and lots of them. Zippers hate me and either break or jam at the least convenient opportunity. Whe n you set up your tent be sure to think of not stressing the zippers and you can fool them into not jamming up so badly or as often. Try to have a reasonable amount of slack in your tent. Some slack is important in the wind or in the snow.
I use a catalytic heater in my tent in cold weather. Mine uses liquid lantern fuel and works out well. It uses half a gallon per night on its maximum setting. If it isn’t cold enough for this setting, you don’t need it at all. I had a propane one for a while and gave it away because its heat output was about half that of the liquid fuel one. I used an eleven pound tank and it was good for three nights. It took up room and the efficiency of propane decreases with altitude and with temperature drops. Be sure to use a tent heater with ventilation to prevent carbon monoxide accumulation.
If it’s snowing, it’s necessary to keep some heat in the tent to prevent an accumulation of snow on top of it. One way to do this is to keep a kerosene lantern burning all night in your tent. They burn very little fuel, are inexpensive, and the light isn’t too bright. Be very careful where any lamp, lantern, heater, or any appliance is kept. I wish all tents came with a loop from which to hang a lantern.
Before you go camping the first time with your new tent, be sure to take it home, and set it up in your back yard before you go off into the woods and get too far from the guy you bought it from. The worst enemy of a tent is to put it away wet. Don’t do it. If you have to pack up a wet tent, set it up to dry as soon as possible.
Before striking your tent, (what’s this….tent abuse?) cleanup the floor as well as you can. You can make a dandy dust pan by cutting a paper plate in half and using a whisk broom. I hope with all this you can be happy campers. ~ Jerry
Wildlife Photography Tricks
by Jerry Dupree
As most of you know I enjoy wildlife photography. I have always loved the outdoors as a hunter, camper, hiker, off roader and happy wanderer. I like to show my photos to anyone who will hold still and I enter photography competitions and enjoy the outdoors. I am out in the desert or up in the mountains at least once a week and try to get out on trails, up in canyons, river beds, and hopefully beyond the beer cans. I look for areas devoid of vehicle tracks, human footprints, and follow animal trails in hopes of locating burrows, nests, and evidence of animal activity.
I have been an avid photographer for years. Cameras have evolved smaller, cheaper, smarter, and sim.pler. I would like to have the money I have invested in cameras, flashes, lenses, and other accessories. I have game cameras that I try to conceal and place them in the shade under trees and bush.es. I place cameras in pairs with one set on video and the other on still. They are operated on motion detectors that trigger the shutter. They have infrared lights to photograph at night. Most animals are nocturnal and it is amazing the variety of animals that are out there. I have shots of coyotes, gray foxes, kit foxes, bobcats, badgers, deer, bighorn sheep, hawks, owls, vultures. The cameras are also sensitive to wind and moving branches, leaves, and grass. I have a lot of pictures of each. I place my cameras facing north so they are not exposed to direct sunlight into the lens. I record the camera locations by GPS coordinates so I can find them again. I would have lost cameras if I hadn't marked their locations from GPS readings.
Animals are curious, especially foxes. They examine the cameras and knock them over. They come with straps to buckle them around trees, but there are very few straight trees in the desert. Pesky foxes like to chew on the straps and drag the cameras away. I havefound straps that have been chewed through, and cameras that have been dragged a few
feet away. I have out of focus close ups of eyes, noses, and other parts of coyotes, foxes, deer, squirrels, mice, kangaroo rats, and other unidentified animals. I have taken off the straps.
I locate cameras a little higher than surrounding terrain for camera position and prevention from flooding in summer storms and rain showers.
I use dry dog food for bait. I am not trying to feed animals, but to attract them. I pour dog food in bushes so the target animals will spend more time 'posing' for the cameras. I add a small can of cat food which has a stronger scent and is more likely to draw animals from longer distances. The cameras and bait piles are where there are animal tracks along natural game trails.
Another method I use is an electronic predator call. They are rechargeable and have channels that can be changed to call different animals. The sounds of the calls are animal distress sounds such as rabbits, quail, and other sounds. Animals will follow any high pitched squeal because they are curious. There are times when they will answer the call in 30 seconds to five minutes, and other times when they won't appear for more than a half hour. They usually circle and catch the scent. I have had animals come in, catch my scent, and then run away. They usually stop and come back because they are very curious. I will usually place my call in a river bed or a wash crossing a road. River beds and water courses are freeways for animals. I will position myself far enough away from the cameras for a good photo and for my own safety. I carry emergency and safety equipment at all times, which includes ‘snake repellant’ which is a pocket size pistol of .38 cal. or .357 magnum. The first two chambers are loaded with shot shells which are easier to aim and hit a snake hopefully before he gets his chance at me. I always have a hiking stick for balance and to poke over rocks and logs and in bushes before I take a step. I have known people who have been snake bitten and listened to their stories about how they got bit.
My usual walking around camera is a Nikon P900 digital camera. They are not prohibitively expensive and they have an incredible 84X lens which focuses on every detail from a long distance.
I carry a lot of stuff in my pack which includes a small folding shovel, level, compass, GPS, and a satellite phone and Personal Locator Beacon.
There are probably a lot of other things I do automatically just because I have been doing it so long. There are things not to do. Spend as little time as possible setting up. Don't contaminate the area with too much human scent, and for sure don't urinate near the setup. I change locations and am careful not to habituate animals where there is a free meal. 'A fed animal is a dead animal' when they become dependent on humans feeding them. I am not sure, but spotlights and electronic calls may not be legal in national parks.
I think it is a fun hobby and enjoy just getting out for a walk on the wild side and the challenge of getting some good photos. I compare it to fishing. Sometimes you get lucky and get the right animal in the right pose in the right lighting. It is always successful because I get to spend a day by myself in the wilderness. ~ Jerry
Local History Website
By Craig Baker
I found a useful website that lists historical markers around the Southwest, and around the world. It’s the Historical Marker Data Base, at
Each marker listing has a map, directions, marker text, photos, and nearby markers. Some have website links, additional information, or comments. You can search for markers by city, zip code, county, name, etc. Find historic sites you didn’t know about, or read the text of markers that are missing.
If you want to add to the database, you can sign up and add additional markers by filling out the easy online form. Read the guidelines. Each listing must have a historical marker, existing or missing, and it must be outdoors.
Some posts have incorrect dates or names, and some look like a bad social media website, but most are useful and interesting. I was surprised to find some important historical markers in the Los Angeles area that were not yet posted. My favorite marker that I’ve added: Lummis Home. ~ Craig
A very useful and versatile accessory for hiking in the outdoors is a hiking stick. I have tried different types including “trekking poles” which are very similar to ski poles and collapse to anyone’s preferred length and are made of some kind of composite like fiberglass or aluminum. I think the trekking poles would be great for hiking on a trail and allow the arms to assist in walking. The problem I have with them is they probably wouldn’t support my weight if I were off balance. I have a weak leg from an old injury, so a hiking stick helps maintain balance in case I trip or fall. Falling would be a problem if I were to land on a rock or into a sticker bush. I have stepped into and caved in animal burrows and have fallen in sandy river beds. The hiking stick helps to get back up.
I feel more secure having a hiking stick for self defense from whatever is out there including snakes. I use the hiking stick to poke in bushes, behind rocks, or logs before I step. Snakes are timid creatures and very well camouflaged. Most of the time they lay motionless to avoid harm from their predators. Snakes are a feast for roadrunners. I have had close encounters with snakes and accidentally stepped on a rattler. I always poke around before stepping near a bush or over a rock or log.
Walking out in the wilds can be treacherous when stepping on stones, leaves, pine needles, shale, or other unstable surfaces. A hiking stick is very helpful, especially when walking downhill as it provides brakes and can prevent a twisted ankle.
Hiking sticks come in different types of material and lengths. I found a company in Texas who makes hiking sticks of various kinds of wood which are strong enough to assist me when poking around. They are online at Brazos Walking Sticks in Waco, Texas (www.brazos-walking-sticks.com). They are available in oak, sassafras, hickory, in plain natural to ornately customized with fancy handles and even cases. There are other companies who make walking or hiking sticks, canes, staffs, and similar assists for whatever a hiker’s preference might be. I keep mine in my truck with the rubber tip facing me because I once tried pulling my hiking stick out of a loaded vehicle and pulled off the rubber tip and couldn’t retrieve it until I unloaded the truck. ~ Jerry
Tire Plug Kit
By Steve Marschke
I’ve had more flat tires out in the desert than I can count (some well-de.served). Having a spare tire is a no brainer. For your consideration, ask yourself “To plug, or not to plug?” Do you carry a tire plug kit? If you don’t have one you should probably get one. These are the kind of tools that tire shops aren’t allowed to use anymore (liability insurance?) but private parties can still use them and they work pret.ty well. You can pay about $50 for a high-quality kit (Saf-T-Seal) but I have found the $10 Pep Boys or Amazon model to work just fine. The reason for the kit is simple: when you get a flat tire offroad, you will change over to your spare (you have one, right?) At this point you will be back in motion. If you are on your way out of the wilderness, no prob.lem. However, what if you just got start.ed on your trip or haven’t even made it to your destination? Are you going to keep going and get even farther into the boondocks without a spare tire? Maybe, but you will probably start worrying. What if you get another flat or two at one time? With a plug kit you just might be able to patch the flat tire and keep your spare for later. Or you can patch more than one tire. You have a choice now to continue on your itinerary with.out worrying that you will be stranded. Or you can be someone’s hero – chances are you have traveled with someone who was not prepared and now is a liability to the whole group. You may not find out who has not properly prepared their vehicle to go off road until something bad happens, but you can be a part of a successful recovery. Even if you never use it on your own vehicle, it’s a must have.
Tire patch kits are rather simple to use: first find the hole – this can be the hardest part, if you can’t see a nail or foreign object use some water and spread it around with your hand slowly. The escaping air might make a bubble but will usually make some hissing noise as the air and your hand partially block the opening. Most of the time you won’t have any trouble finding the hole – it’s right where that sharp rock or creosote stump is jutting into your tire. If you need to, drive a foot or two to get the hole to an orientation where you can work on it. Then insert the reamer part of the kit in and out of the hole a few times. Thread the plug (it’s like sticky rope) through the insert tool, coat it with the rubber cement, and carefully push it into the hole. Go slow here because you want the ends of the plug to stay outside, not all the way into the tire. Hold the ends of the plug down and remove the tool; the plug should slide out of the tool and stay in the tire. The ends of the plug will be hanging out. You can leave them or trim them off with a knife. Pump up the tire with your air compressor (Don’t have one? Better get one, even a cheapy cigarette lighter version.)
I find a couple helpful hints: if the hole is in the tread, keep tire inflated as much as possible as it will help keep the tire rigid making the insertion through the steel belts slightly easier. If the hole is in sidewall or the corner you can insert the plug with tire completely deflated, since there are few or no steel belts it will go in easily. If you have a large hole or a gash, keep inserting plugs side by side until hole is filled up. It helps to hold first plug with a nee.dle nose pliers to keep from pushing it into the tire as you insert the next plug. While off road and driving slowly, don’t worry too much but periodically check the plug to make sure it stayed put and the tire is holding air. Once you get back to the highway you should have a good idea if the tire is road worthy or not. By the time my tires reach 50,000 miles I usually have at least a couple plugs in each one.
Best part about using a plug – you just saved yourself the cost of a tire. If you get another puncture on the same tire – so what, that tire is already worn and you saved the replacement cost, how much will another plug hurt? Secondary benefit: a plug kit and small air compres.sor and far easier to pack (and cheaper) than a second spare tire – who has space for two anyway? Third benefit: You can buy a replacement tire that matches your other three instead of paying through the nose at the local garage and receiving a mismatched tire you never would have bought in the first place – when it’s all said and done, you’ve bought two tires (expensive lesson to learn).
Next time you get a low tire at home practice using your plug kit in your driveway so you’ll be ready. You can also watch videos on You Tube and get some free training. It’s much easier to learn when you are relaxed at home than it is when you are in the hinterlands, weighing your options. ~ Steve
DIY First Aid Kit by Jerry Dupree
Anything can happen when we are out and about. We have all had scrapes, burns, splinters, etc. Have a good first aid kit and I have never seen one for sale that would be effective for a variety of injuries from something minor to a life threatening situation. I made a list of possibles that have happened in various situations. While in the Boy Scouts a boy suffered a deep cut from falling on a sharp rock and another one was seriously injured from an axe. There are possible eye injuries, broken bones, burns, cuts, heart attacks, strokes, snake bites, and allergic reactions to insect stings. The best first aid is a cell phone. Assistance can be requested for an ambulance, search and rescue, or a medivac helicopter. For quick assistance, a phone call to the nearest hospital can direct to immediate medical assistance and can give directions, advice, and procedures. Photographs can be taken of the injury and emailed so professional medical personnel can evaluate and advise care and treatment. We have special medical insurance that will cover search and rescue and helicopter evacuation.
With the advice of an emergency room nurse I made a list of items one should have when venturing to the outdoors or any trip. The nurse described many of the injuries that are frequently treated in emergency rooms at the hospital. I have also asked for advice from a fire fighter / EMT.
We should always carry a list of our prescription medications and existing medical conditions. If someone becomes incapacitated and not able to communicate the problem, it may not be possible to correctly treat it. I carry my medications and history with me at all times, as well as the name and phone number of any doctor or specialist who knows my conditions and has the files and history. It is best to have a starting point and a source of information before any procedure. Some treatments can compound the situation such as administering an aspirin to someone who is bleeding or is having a stroke.
I began acquiring supplies for my first aid kit. The usual are band aids, non stick tape, and something to to make a splint out of. Never try to re align a broken bone. Just stabilize it to transport the patient to a hospital. Two of us brought a victim of both broken wrists to a hospital and laid his arms on a pillow on his lap. Every slight bump on the freeway caused great pain. Any attempt to straighten a limb would be very painful and may cause further damage such as piercing a vein or an artery. Some items are not available from a pharmacy but may be online. I have an “air way” which is reversible for a child or an adult and fits down the throat for “mouth to mouth” respiration without touching the patient’s mouth when administering CPR. I also have nitroglycerine pills to relieve arteries in case of a heart attack.
List of First Aid Supplies
1 Assorted bandages and gauze pads
2 Non stick tape
3 Aspirin for various purposes including a heart attack, but NOT for a stroke
4 Surgical gloves
6 Anti bacterial towelettes
7 Antiseptic liquid bandage
8 Benadryl gel and tablets
9 Sharp scissors
10 Ipecac Syrup
13 Finger splint
14 Ace Bandages
15 Eye stream
17 Wound seal powder
18 Butterfly bandages
19 Mole skin
20 Blister bandages
21 Saran wrap
24 Snake bite kit
The saran wrap is for covering wounds and wrapping to stop bleeding or using for a splint. Keep wrapping the injured area without cutting circulation. When the patient arrives for medical treatment, the first person will need to remove any bandages to call the appropriate specialist (orthopedic, burn, surgeon, neurosurgeon, vascular, etc). Any gauze or tape would be very painful. One advantage of using Saran wrap is the admitting personnel can see the wound without removal.
Always carry emergency blankets, including space blankets to treat hypothermia, shock, and to keep the patient warm, replace wet clothing, keeping the patient comfortable, etc.
It is best to not apply ointments, creams, gels, etc, to lacerations or major wounds. The emergency team will have to scrape it out before closing and suturing. The best general treatment is to get the patient to professional medical care as soon as possible. First aid is first until a qualified medical team can begin their jobs.
Snake bites: We all fear poisonous snakes and what they can do. If a person is a snake bite victim the best treatment is evacuating to a hospital as soon as possible. Try to kill the snake and bring it to the hospital. Different breeds of snakes have different toxins. The nearest snake bite treatment center is Loma Linda Medical Center. The fastest way to reach it is the best, be it private transportation, ambulance, or helicopter. Contact by cell phone is the best help that can be done. If the bite is in a limb, keep it down from the heart and clean the wound. Snake bites usually become infected. I have known people who have been bitten and it is advisable not to cut the wound. Snake bite kits can be effective for sucking out as much poison without cutting.
It is advisable to keep up with the latest techniques and technology for first aid treatment. There are first aid and CPR classes given by the Red Cross and other agencies. If there is a defibrillator near by, there should also be people knowledgeable in using it. We all need refresher courses in first aid. ~ Jerry
Game Camera Photography
by Jerry Dupree
Photography really became fun when it went digital. Images could be cropped, color adjusted, things added and deleted, poor lighting could be adjusted, and there was no film to process. Photography went wild with video, miniature, under water, drones, Go Pro cameras on helmets, worn on chests, attached to rockets and parachutes.
Digital cameras got better, cheaper, and smarter by the year, Upscale digital cameras used to cost $25,000. Now anyone can be taking excellent photographs for a small fraction of that and achieve better results.
Now fast forward to game cameras that can be set for still or video with sound, and are motion sensor operated. Now we can find out what our cat does at night, or what goes on in the back yard with rodents, owls, raccoons, opossums, and other things that go bump in the night.
I have always loved the outdoors and take a lot of photos of various birds and animals. One day I decided to buy a game camera and leave it in place to see what happens when there are no people around. I discovered there is a definite learning curve when using any specialized camera. Game cameras are not very expensive when considering what their capabilities are. They take stills, videos, and night photos of anything that walks in front of them. Early on I wanted to photograph in nature preserves, but found out they don’t like to give permission to walking off of approved trails and of course there are people who will steal them if they find them. I decided to go places where no one or at least very few people go. There are parts of national parks which are wilderness with no roads. I look for wheel and foot prints so I can place cameras where they are not likely to be found. I have learned to point the cameras north so the lens is not directly pointed toward the sun at any time. I began experimenting with bait to attract certain animals. I began with dry dog food and learned how to disguise it behind rocks or branches to make the scenes appear as natural as possible. I thought that if I used dry dog food and mixed in rabbit food and bird seed, that rabbits, birds, and rodents would attract owls, hawks, and other predators. I tried canned cat food for the strong scent plus inviting bobcats and hopefully a mountain lion or two. So far the cat food has been effective. I keep the cameras in the shade and clear the area in front of them between the camera and the bait and in the background. I have had problems with ravens stealing the bait. For some reason the raven population is much smaller than in past years. At least they are not eating all of my bait.
Foxes are pesky and knock over my cameras and chew on the straps. One time a fox drug one of my cameras a good distance away and it was a good thing I found it. Game cameras come with straps to fasten to trees. There are not many straight, tall trees in the desert, so I place them on the ground and level them. I leave the straps off after a few fox attacks.
At this time of the year I am hoping to attract animals with their newborn litters. Coyotes usually have their pups in May, so they should be up and around with their eyes open and learning to find food for themselves. My wife and I followed a trail one time which led to a den with baby coyotes. I got some photos of a quail family with nine babies. carry a hiking stick and poke around bushes, logs, and grass, before I step in or over them in case I find a rattlesnake. I have found several of them over the years.
Game camera photography has become an interesting hobby and is a little like fishing. Sometimes I get a good catch and am always trying new bait, areas to set up cameras.
I always carry a GPS and record the coordinates or I might not find my cameras. It is easy to become disoriented when hiking around the desert canyons or mountains. I am careful to bring emergency equipment including a satellite phone and a PLB (Personal Locator Beacon). ~ Jerry
Time to get creative
by Steve Marschke
I was out with the Wagoneer and ran out of gas. Since I knew our route and we would be putting on a lot of miles and my truck is a gas hog and only has a 20 gallon tank, I had planned ahead and brought a 5 jerry can. Unfortunately, the Wagoneer has a filler neck on the side of the body and there was no way to pour from the jerry can into the neck without a funnel or nozzle. I never carry a nozzle because they take up space, leak and create a mess to put away after use. I normally have a siphon hose, which is easier and cleaner, but I also normally drive the CJ5. I had forgotten the siphon hose on this trip (so much for planning ahead).
I managed to fabricate a temporary funnel from two water bottles and some duct tape. It leaked a bit but most of the gas went into the tank. Lesson to self: plan better. I now have another siphon hose in Wagoneer so I don’t have to move it from one truck to the other. Lesson to others: bring versatile, multi-purpose gear on every trip especially raw building materials. Whenever you are stuck, go through your gear inventory fashion (including the trash), brainstorm and ‘MacGyver’ a solution. ~ Steve Marschke
Note from Debbie Miller Marschke: you will notice that the duct tape actually has a pattern of "Mac N Cheese" on it. I gave that silly duct tape to Steve as a joke. He laughed and said he would never use it...but I guess he was wrong! ~ DM